I did my best to give this story 'legs', so even if a reader hasn't read 'A Tale of Two Matchmakers' (I've heard rumours there are a few, heh) they can enjoy it as well. Of course, if enjoyment leads to a burning desire to read the original fic that would be brilliant too. The title is taken from the first book of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede—something else I recommend reading, after my fics. :D
Dealing with Dragons
The sun had begun to sink behind the western edge of the Carpathians when Ginny and I returned to the dragon research centre. I fully expected to catch hell from Charlie, because we were hours late.
Flying with my girl leaning back against me, both of us glad to be alive and together, I really didn't care what her big brother said. Of course, most people thought I didn't care what anybody said, but that wasn't true. I merely declined to disabuse the ignorant of their false beliefs. I was a Malfoy, after all. There was the family image to uphold. Apart from that, if word got round that I wasn't the cold-hearted bastard people thought I was, I'd be forced to wizard duel every day at school. Frankly, I had better uses for my time, like snogging Ginny.
The person whose opinion I wished I didn't care about was my father. Lucius had learnt of my relationship with what he considered 'a blood-traitor Weasley.' To say he had not been pleased would be an understatement.
To prove that his reach extended past Azkaban, Father arranged to remove Ginny from my life permanently. His emissary, an Animagus named Marisol, had tracked us to Romania and met an end as bitter as her name.
Celebrating our narrow escape from death had been more important than punctuality. Truth be known, I considered a kiss and cuddle with Ginny more important than almost anything. Which is why, even though I still craved Father's approval in some pathetic corner of my mind, I was taking steps to make sure he did not try his nasty tricks again.
"You're scowling. Aren't you happy?"
I looked down at Ginny and smiled. "I'm happy, Red." Not wanting to burden her with thoughts of Lucius, I resorted to a Slytherin standard–the white lie. "I was just wondering if I should perform a Shielding Charm in case your brother hexes first and asks questions later…after I've suffered."
She reached up to caress my cheek. "Don't worry, if he starts to hex, I'll give him a Bat Bogey."
I enjoyed the thought of someone other than me receiving that hex. "Now I'm hoping he got the Weasley temper along with the red hair and freckles."
Ginny's laughter rang out. My smile faded when I caught sight of her brother. He was standing, legs braced and arms crossed, near the broomstick shed at the side of the centre. The sunset giving my girlfriend's face a radiant glow did nothing to soften Charlie's grim features.
Prudently, I landed several metres away, and walked behind Ginny as she said, "Charlie, you won't believe what happened!"
Normally mild brown eyes hardened as the dragon chaser and keeper gently touched her scratched cheek with a calloused finger. "Tell me."
"Marisol tracked us up to the burnt peak, as a raven, and got eaten by a Horntail."
The man's rugged features slackened with astonishment. He looked at me.
I nodded. "It's true. She's dead."
It wasn't the whole truth. Ginny had left out the dodgier details. Such as, I was an unregistered Animagus, or that, transformed into a ferret; I had lured the witch up to the dragon's lair to be devoured. She also omitted trifles like saving me, and receiving scratches that I 'kissed better' in a pool beneath a waterfall.
I would have liked to claim that it was her Slytherin side coming out. I had a feeling, though, that her reticence stemmed from feminine instinct. She was protecting me from a hex and her from a lecture.
"Where's your broomstick, Malfoy?"
My eyes flew to Ginny. I shrugged. "On the slope beneath Vihorlat peak, I expect." Nonchalance had got me out of many a dicey situation in the past. Worked like a charm this time as well.
"Why–" Charlie shook his head. "Never mind, I don't want to know." He engulfed his sister in a bear hug. "Merlin, I'm so glad you're finally safe!"
I frowned. Ginny's brothers were always grabbing her up and endangering her spine with their overenthusiastic displays of affection. Couldn't they see that she was smaller, more delicate and act accordingly? Suddenly, I remembered the way I had pressed her tight against me after our brush with danger. Ruefully, I had to acknowledge that I didn't like anyone getting that close to her except me.
"We've got to tell Mum and Dad!" Charlie exclaimed. He began jogging toward his steep-roofed home that typified local architecture.
After returning the broomstick to the shed, Ginny and I followed much more slowly, holding hands. We exchanged glances.
"Do you think they'll mention Easter holiday?" she said, biting her lower lip.
"I think your parents will be so happy that you're safe that they won't care about anything else."
Ginny squeezed my hand, smiling hopefully while we crossed the grassy area between the large centre and the cluster of smaller homes occupied by the permanent staff. I'd advised not telling her parents that she'd spent her holiday in Spain with friends…and me…instead of with Luna's aunt, but Ginny had wanted to come clean.
Grudgingly admiring her scruples, I had suggested confessing after she returned from Romania. She had compromised by leaving a 'Dear Mum' letter in care of Bill, who was to deliver it to their parents after a few days. I was trying to put on a good front of optimism, but I'm no Hufflepuff. I knew full well her parents were going to react badly to the news of their daughter's latest deception.
I opened the door for Ginny to enter.
Inside, Mrs. Weasley's voice rang out. "My little girl's truly safe? Praise the stars, I've been so worried. Where is she? Ginny, let me see that you're all right. Ginny!"
Molly Weasley's glowing face–green, due to communication flames in the fireplace–lit up like a child on Christmas when her daughter rushed forward and knelt down into sight. The loving mother asked a dozen questions about 'that awful raven woman'.
Ginny skillfully edited her answers.
Satisfied with the explanations, the mother smiled warmly, and then froze, as if remembering something. Her expression underwent a drastic change while she shrieked, "HOW COULD YOU HAVE LIED TO US TIME AND AGAIN, YOUNG LADY! YOU WILL COME HOME AT ONCE AND REMAIN IN YOUR ROOM FOR THE REST OF THE SUMMER!"
The Howler I had been expecting daily had finally arrived.
Ginny waited for her mother to draw breath. "I explained the reasons for my actions, Mum, said how sorry I was, and promised to never run off again." She took a calming breath of her own and said, "I'm not coming home until the end of the summer."
"What? WHAT?" Mrs. Weasley's voice rose in pitch and volume as she enumerated all the ways in which her daughter had disappointed.
Charlie and I both winced in reaction to the ear-piercing sound. Within the depths of the nearby forest, wolves howled. Ginny never flinched.
"I'm so sorry, sorrier than I can say, Mum, but I won't argue and I'm not coming home. If you want to talk this out, you know where to find me." Ginny smiled sadly and broke the mystical connection.
Into the silence, Charlie pointed to the fireplace in shock. "You…you…gods, Ginny, Mum's going to have kittens!" His eyes darted about wildly. "She…she'll come here…and make such a scene, that Anika won't want to go with me anymore!"
The Romanian girl in question, a petite brunette who was Charlie's housekeeper as well as his new girlfriend, had been quietly listening from the doorway to the kitchen. Anika's green eyes remained fixed on Charlie's face as she wiped her hands on an embroidered apron. "I could not help but hear a woman's voice…shouting…" she said with a blush. "I heard the other things also." She walked over to place her hand on her boyfriend's arm. "Nothing your mother does or says will change my feelings." Untying her apron, she shot Ginny an embarrassed smile. "I must leave now, but there is cake on the counter."
I was reluctantly amused. The family was in crisis, but at least they had cake!
Charlie stepped closer to Anika, his words rushing together in eagerness. "May-I-walk-you-home?"
"Da." She asked with a shy smile, "Will you stay and eat with my family?"
"Da." Charlie grinned. He told his sister, "Behave," and warned me on the way out the door, "The wards on your room are still active, Malfoy."
"I'd be a gentleman even if they weren't, Weasley."
After the couple left for the Wizarding village reached by a forest road, I said, "I thought they'd never leave."
Ginny's smile was wobbly. "Looks like you were right about telling my mother."
Usually, I jump at the opportunity to say 'I told you so,' but not this time. Instead, I embraced my girl and said lightly, "Don't say that. Think of how loudly she would've shrieked if you'd waited." When she smiled more naturally, I smirked. "Did you hear the wolves? Think of every dog in Devon howling and take comfort in knowing that you've performed a public service."
Her giggle made me feel less like a selfish bastard. I hadn't asked Ginny to stay in Romania with me, but I'd done my best to influence her to do so. Since my best is irresistible, I felt a twinge of something remotely like guilt. To make the uncomfortable sensation go away, I said, "Why don't we stay in tonight? I'll make dinner."
"You cook?" Ginny laughed in disbelief.
"I conjure," I corrected loftily. "There's a difference."
Miss Cheeky asked with sparkling eyes, "What? You don't get your hands and clothes dirty?"
"Besides that," I said, satisfied that my gambit to cheer had worked. "Conjuring, like Potions, is a subtle science." My imitation of Snape's tone and curling lip was rewarded with a peal of laughter.
"Simmering sauces instead of simmering cauldrons?"
I reached out and brushed the pad of my thumb across her lower lip. "Have I ever told you what pretty teeth you have, Red?"
Ginny's expression became sultry, even while she backed towards the stairs and said pertly, "The better to eat dinner with, in case your conjuring is off and the meat's tough."
I grinned. I love my girlfriend for more than her looks. Her feisty personality attracted me just as much. I allowed my gaze to roam from her bright hair to her pink toenails in open appreciation. In a voice husky with…admiration, I said, "Wear a dress."
"Okay." Ginny's voice was as husky as mine was. My smile became what she called 'wolfish.' Seeing it, she blushed in a way that highlighted every kissable freckle. "When's dinner?"
"In an hour," I replied confidently.
When Ginny hurried upstairs, I waited until I heard her door close and bolted for the kitchen. I had not lied, precisely, when I said I knew how to conjure. I did–in theory. I had watched my best mate Blaise conjure loads of times. I was tempted to jog over to a certain volunteer's tent and watch one more time, but I didn't. I needed to do this myself.
My first attempts at putting theory into practise were less than successful. In fact, harsh critics would have called them dismal failures. After using Evanesco to rid the kitchen of a charred attempt at Beef Bourguignon, I realised my problem. I was trying to conjure dishes to which I knew only a few of the ingredients. Squaring my shoulders, I lifted my wand and concentrated once more. Soon afterwards, perfectly cooked steak, jacket potatoes, and a mixed salad awaited under stasis covers on the counter. Haute Cuisine, it wasn't, but it would have to do.
Quickly heading upstairs after setting the dining room table, I used my Melusine Mirror to tell Blaise about Marisol's end. My mate was duly exultant. I then showered and changed in record time. I would never admit it to anyone, because I take pleasure in proper grooming, but long hair was easier to style. A few brushes were all that was required.
I assessed my reflection in the mirror as I buttoned the cuff of my black on black-striped shirt. I felt my lips turn up at the thought of how Ginny loved the contrast of pale hair and skin against black. The grey eyes staring back at me held an ironic gleam. I was a combination of dark and light on the inside, too. Shrugging off mawkish introspection, I brushed a speck of lint off my black trousers and went downstairs.
I had just finished opening a bottle of sparkling cider–no champagne for underage girls–when I saw Ginny descending the stairway. "You look beautiful." I was at the foot of the stairs, dimly remembering dropping the bottle back into ice and striding forward.
"Thank you." She smiled as I raised her hand for a kiss.
Ginny was wearing a dress she had worn in Spain. It was black, with a sexy, short skirt and a coppery, metallic-looking crochet or some such layer over it that made her hair shine. I ran a finger across the fringe hem. I noticed a scratch that marred the soft skin displayed by her neckline and traced it gently. "I'm sorry you were hurt rescuing that bloody ferret. I'm surprised you didn't drop him on his hard head. He deserved it."
"He acted out of instinct. I don't hold it against him."
I was grateful for her understanding. I wasn't referring to my ferret Animagus form in the third person because I was mental. I was called the 'Prince of Slytherin', but I didn't actually believe I was royalty or go about saying 'we.'
My father bound me with blood magic to silence when I was twelve and still willing to follow wherever he led. I have been unable to reveal the ability Lucius secretly taught me without suffering a curse too horrible to contemplate. I had been less than careful and maybe had even subconsciously allowed Ginny to discover my secret. Obliquely, I had shared why I kept it from her. I didn't deserve her sympathy, or her love, but thankfully life's not fair, and she gave it anyway.
Her soft words received my full attention. "I'd like him to visit again, to watch over me in case I have nightmares…or something."
Her eyes asked a question I couldn't answer outright, so I raised a brow and said, "Well, if you leave your door cracked, who knows what might slip inside once your brother's gone to sleep."
Ginny smiled. "I'll keep that in mind."
I wanted to slip inside her room in human form, but the Wizard Handshake I had given her father, and my own quixotic chivalry would prevent that from happening. Ignoring the faint inner voice that sneered over a Slytherin caring about integrity, I offered her a flute of cider. "To life and love."
She tapped her glass to mine. "To life and love."
I held out an arm and escorted my ladylove to the dining room. Ginny said, "Everything looks beautiful."
Charlie's plain china was now something more elegant, and a polishing spell had made the silver gleam and the crystal sparkle, but her gaze lingered on me the longest. I bent and kissed her in thanks. "Would you like your salad first or last?"
I bowed and promptly served the steak and jacket potatoes. Looking across the candlelit table I had transformed to cosily seat two, I was happy just to be with her.
"Think what your fellow Slytherin would say if they saw their Prince waiting on a common Weasley," Ginny teased.
"There's nothing common about you, Red," I said. "As for what they would say, well, you'll keep my secret, won't you?"
Clever girl, she took my meaning, promising, "I'll keep all your secrets."
Our eyes held. The silence became electric with love and desire. I said the first thing that came to mind. "I forgot to ask, do you want bread?"
"Bread?" Ginny blankly repeated.
"Yes. I forgot to conjure any. Anika left bobalky, the kind with poppy seeds. I could warm it, if you'd like."
Her lips pressed together, probably in an attempt not to laugh. "That would be…nice."
The smile in her voice made me feel like a boy trying to impress his first crush. I liked the feeling. Normally, I tended to be cynical. Blaise once told me that a cynic is just a frustrated romantic. I had disagreed, but sometimes, I wondered…until I snapped out of Hufflepuff-type thinking.
We both passed on the chocolate cake Anika had made. Returning to the lounge after I got rid of all the dishes without a qualm, promising to replace them if Charlie noticed, I spun an Orpheus Orb I had left on a side table and took Ginny into my arms.
"Mmm…this beats chocolate any day." She sighed as we swayed to the dreamy music.
We both had a sweet tooth, so I appreciated the compliment. Brushing fiery strands aside while my lips brushed their way across a silken cheek to her ear, I said, "I know something that would make this night even sweeter."
She shivered as her lips sought mine. Our kiss was pure, yet sensual, and perfect. I was used to falling into darkness, but this felt more like falling into light. I would have remained in her embrace until the sun came up, using my mouth and hands to show how much I needed her, but Ginny's brother came home.
"Stars and stones, do I need to use a Cold-Water Charm on you two? It's after midnight! Ginevra, say goodnight and go to bed." Charlie's tone was a mixture of reluctant humour and exasperation.
Her lips clung to mine for a moment longer. Pulling away slowly, she smiled in a way that did not help my blood pressure return to normal, "Au Revoir, my love."
Repressing the impulse to sweep her off her feet and carry her up the staircase, I nodded, watching as she bid her brother goodnight and walked upstairs. At the top, she blew me a kiss.
Charlie said incredulously when he saw me 'catch' the kiss and press it to my heart, "Are you really Draco Malfoy? When Fred and George told me about body-snatching aliens, I thought the idea was farfetched, but now I'm not so sure."
I said menacingly, "If you tell your brothers or anyone else anything that's between me and Ginny…." I raised a brow. "Let's just say you're not the only one who knows how to hex parts held dear."
He didn't back down, but Charlie did swallow hard before replying, "Okay, you're not a pod person." When I stepped away, satisfied, he added, "I meant what I said earlier. The wards on your room still hold, Draco."
I inclined my head, smiling faintly. "I expected nothing less, Charlie."
Inside my room, I showered and tried not to watch the clock. Time always passed so much more slowly when I did that. Eventually, after re-reading a few chapters of a book on Seeker strategy, the faint sounds emanating from Charlie's room as he got ready for bed silenced. Taking deep, slow breaths, I closed my eyes and began to chant.
Transformed into a ferret, I wriggled out of the silk fabric I had never been able to transform along with my body and scurried to the door. Slipping through the narrow opening, bypassing the wards, I ran down the corridor to Ginny's room.
The door was ajar. I quickly entered, idly curious whether or not a grin showed on animal features. I scampered to the window where Ginny stood looking out.
She saw me, knelt down and picked me up, crooning, "Draco, you're adorable." Stroking my white fur, my girl said, "You're so soft and gorgeous. Can I call you Snowy?"
She giggled. "Sorry, I couldn't resist."
Ginny kissed the top of my head and rubbed her cheek against my fur. I liked that almost as well as when she took the hint of my cocked head and scratched behind my ear. Carrying me over to the bed, she set me down on a pillow and lay on her side to watch me. Did she expect me to do tricks? Pink lips curved mischievously while she dangled the ends of her hair at me as if I was a kitten who could be enticed by yarn. My jaw cracked when I yawned in response.
She mock-demanded, "What? You refuse to entertain me? What good are you, then?"
I rolled off the pillow and padded down the bed to reach her bare toes, which I began licking. Ginny stared in shock, and then gasped. "Stop doing that!" Incorrigible, I did no such thing. Her toes were quite ticklish. She laughed helplessly and jerked her foot in response. I was shoved off the bed, tumbling to the floor where I lay panting to express my amusement.
"Draco, are you all right? What have I done?" Ginny cried, scooping me up and pressing me to her bosom. I rubbed my head against soft skin. My giggling girlfriend lay back against her pillow and lowered her chin to look at me. "I've got every girl's dream, a boyfriend who'll listen without interrupting when she's trying to share her thoughts and feelings." Seeing me pant, she said, "Not those kind of feelings, you pervy ferret." Taking a deep breath that made me rise and fall delightfully, she began, "Blue used to be my favourite colour, but now its quicksilver grey…."
What interesting things I learnt, before the warmth of Ginny's body and the steady beat of her heart combined with the soothing lilt of her voice made my eyes grow heavy and close. In the morning, I lifted my head to see her smiling sleepily at me. "Good morning. Put you to sleep, did I?"
I shook my head.
She caressed my fur. "Thanks, but I talked myself to sleep, too. If you come back tonight, I promise not to natter on." I opened my mouth in a pant. Ginny said, "Oh, you're laughing when you do that. That's so cute!" She sat up, kissed my cheek and got a lick in return before she set me on the floor.
Impulsively, I stood on hind legs and spun in circles for her before scampering out the door.
Downstairs, over breakfast awhile later, Ginny kept looking at me and breaking into giggles. Charlie gazed at me in silent question. I shrugged and mouthed 'women.' He nodded solemnly and returned to reading the Romanian version of the Prophet. I concealed my grin behind the English newspaper.
Flying beside Ginny later, I pointed to an object below and shouted, "Look, a red deer!" Spotting wildlife delighted my girlfriend, which was the only reason I bothered to make the effort. I smiled in response to her excitement, not over some deer or a black goat on a ridge. I did enjoy the scenery, the graduation of vegetation from dense forests at lower levels to the mountain cliffs with alpine grasses and hardy shrubs. The crystalline, limestone, and volcanic rocks with reliefs carved by wind and time appealed to the history-lover in me.
We avoided the deep gorge claimed by Ukrainian Ironbellies. The largest breed of dragon was also the most territorial. Only experienced dragon keepers approached them. Ginny and I saw one circling the gorge, glinting metallic silver in the sunlight. The creature must have weighed six tons. I was not eager for a closer look.
When we landed on a sandstone slope beneath a peak in the central mountainous region of the reserve, Ginny and I quietly engaged Disillusionment Charms to blend into the landscape. Our 'mission' as Charlie grandly termed it, was to hike up to the peak occupied by Romanian Longhorns and check on the status of the eggs waiting to hatch. Once we confirmed that all was well, we would be free to explore the sharp ridges and my favourite waterfalls before reporting in at lunchtime.
"Draco." Ginny's whisper came from my right. I stretched out a hand and touched her unseen cheek. Her hand clasped mine. "Are you ready to climb?"
I nodded before remembering that she could not see me. I said in an undertone, "Let's go."
On the peak, several dark green-scaled dragons basked in the sunlight. One lifted a long, glittering horn and appeared to sniff the air. Only the knowledge that the potion we had taken before leaving masked our scent kept me from scrambling down the slope again. The Slytherin instinct for self-preservation is extremely pronounced in my family.
"Look, they're leaving!" Ginny breathed into what she must have thought was my ear.
I kissed her, to help orient my partner as to my true position. She twined her arms around my neck and kissed me back, to show that she understood. When I looked up, the dragons were flying in ever widening circles in the sky. I admired the creatures' caution. I would not leave my eggs to hunt without making sure they were truly safe either.
A lone dragoness lay curled inside a cave, eyes closed. Out in the sunlight, clutches of speckled grey eggs were all present and accounted for. I was ready to go back down. The slender hand clasping mine tightened almost painfully.
"The egg on the end," Ginny whispered, into my ear this time.
I looked and saw an oblong shape tottering on the edge of the sand-filled depression keepers charmed to stay heated to hold the eggs. A gust of wind blew across the summit. The egg tilted and began to roll down the peak. When she pulled my hand, I knew my bold Gryffindor expected me to help save the blasted thing.
As quietly as possible, we ran toward the runaway egg. It took both of us to stop its downward motion. The bloody thing was as heavy as its cement colour and harder to roll than I expected. Where were Crabbe and Goyle when I needed them? Oh, right, on holiday. Deciding not to buy them a souvenir, I strained to push the oval back into the nest. My back was going to require a deep-tissue massage. Cheered at the thought of returning the favour for Ginny, I gave a final push, and got my hand slashed for my trouble.
Biting back a stream of curses for the dragonet whose razor-sharp beak had gashed my skin while poking a hole in the hard shell, I yanked off my tee and wrapped it around my palm to stop the bleeding.
Inside the shallow cave, golden eyes opened, vertical slits peering in our direction. I groped, found Ginny, and pulled her back as the dragoness uncurled and moved sinuously forward. The damned potion only concealed scents–not the smell of blood. We had to get out of there before the Longhorn caught a whiff of my blood and began hunting its source.
The dragonet's beak was now entirely free of the shell. I heard Ginny sigh. Not giving a rat's arse about the miracle of dragon birth, I dragged her back down the slope. On the peak above, the dragoness gave a yowling, piercing screech that echoed across the mountainside.
My blood ran cold. I knew what that meant–the other dragons would soon return to welcome junior to the family. I picked up the pace, sliding down the last few metres to our hidden broomsticks. Snatching one, I held it out for Ginny to take and ordered, "Stay concealed until we're well away from here."
A Longhorn flew uncomfortably close as we made our escape. I froze against my broomstick when the serpentine neck craned to try to catch what must have been the scent of my blood. I was about to attempt an Aversion Charm of epic proportion when another scream was heard. Apparently, it meant 'get your arse over here' in dragon, because the creature abruptly beat its wings and glided directly toward the peak. I sped toward the nearest waterfall, landing beside the pool and breaking the Disillusionment Charm.
"What happened to your hand?" Ginny rushed over and un-wrapped my shirt to reveal the still-bleeding wound.
I winced. "Junior happened to it, the ungrateful little blighter."
Ginny glanced from my hand, which she healed with a first aid spell, to my sulky expression and said, "Draco junior does have a ring to it. Let's go tell Charlie."
I moved to block her way. "No way are you naming that vicious hatchling after me."
She started sniggering. Belatedly, I realised that Ginny had been having me on. I pulled her close and gazed heatedly into her eyes. "Guess what happens to hot little redheads who taunt dragons?"
Her hands smoothed over the contours of my chest. Brown eyes became heavy. "They get devoured?"
Resisting the temptation of her upturned lips, I swept her into my arms and strode forward, saying as I tossed her into the pool, "No, they get to cool off." My laughter bounced off the rocks when she came to the surface spluttering and hissing like a cat. Without a Warming Charm, mountain water was glacier cold. I magnanimously performed the charm to stop her teeth from chattering.
"Help me out, please."
I made a tactical error. I fell for a pretty smile and a wet t-shirt. She pulled me into the icy pool with her. Merlin, it was freezing cold! It was hard to draw breath. Suddenly, my body and the water warmed. Standing neck-deep in the pool, I pushed hair out of my face and told the girl now holding on to my shoulders and giggling, "I don't know that I deserved that."
She smirked like a Slytherin. "Of course you did." Her mouth melded to mine for a moment. "You deserve this too."
I did deserve a snog, for saving a bloody dragon egg and our lives as well with my well-timed retreat down the slope. Ginny obviously agreed, by the way she rewarded my heroic efforts by using her tongue in a way that heated better than any Charm.
I lost track of time, which seemed to slow into one long, deep, mind-blowing kiss. When Ginny tried to pull her tee up and off, I was jolted back to reality. I was never a Wizard Scout, but it didn't take a woodsman to see that the sun had shifted into afternoon. Ignoring the inner voice that yelled What are you doing? She wants to. You want her to. Are you mental or just bloody stupid? I pulled her shirt back down—after an appreciative look—and reminded, "We're expected back."
I almost reconsidered. Strangely, an image of a knight tilting a windmill came to mind. Sighing heavily, I chose to be quixotic once again. "So Charlie will be worried…and might owl your mother." Her narrowed gaze told me that was a low blow, but Ginny climbed out of the pool. I sighed again, seeing how wet fabric clung to her every curve. The exhalations seemed to cheer her up. By the time I clambered out and reached for my wand, she had already dried off and taken my tee in hand to perform a Cleaning Charm. Once I was dry, I handed her a broomstick, kissing her soundly before saying, "After you, my lady."
Back at the centre, a small group waited. The sun came out from behind a cloud and burnished each head a shade of red. Ginny's mouth dropped open. "Oh shite!"
My thought exactly. I said, "Chin up. We don't hear shrieking. That's a good sign."
"No, Mum's worse when she's quiet–scarier." Ginny's face bleached of colour. She sat up straight and said boldly, "I meant what I said, and I'll say it again. I'm sorry, but I'm not coming home." She gave me a wobbly smile. "Now if I can just tell her that."
We were descending. She would soon get her chance. Opposite of yesterday, she landed several metres away from her family and walked behind me as we approached. The irony caused my lips to curve. I called, "One of the Longhorn eggs hatched."
Charlie stepped forward, "Really? How unusual. Normally, only a trauma like a fall will cause a dragonet to break its shell early."
I looked at Ginny. She said, "The egg was awkwardly place and pushed out of the sand by the wind. We rolled it back and…that's when the dragonet started to hatch."
Her words spurred the rest of the group to move forward. Mr. Weasley said, "You didn't suffer any harm, did you?"
Bill shook his head, sending his earring into motion. "I can't believe Charlie would let you go near the dragons in the first place."
The second-oldest Weasley sibling looked like he wanted to rip the dragon fang out of Bill's ear the painful way. "They were sent to check on the eggs, with all the proper precautions," Charlie said balefully.
Ron stepped between his brothers and smiled hesitantly at his sister. "I thought you were going to let me hold the first dragon egg."
Ginny threw him a grateful look. "Sorry. The decision was taken out of my hands."
"That's always your excuse, isn't it dear." Mrs. Weasley's tone was sharp. Everyone turned to her. I kept my eyes on Ginny, whose lips began to tremble when her mother walked forward, saying, "You wouldn't listen to me, be reasonable, or attempt to see things my way, so I was forced to run off and do exactly as I pleased. Isn't that right, Ginevra?"
My girl pressed her lips together. I was impressed that she didn't dissolve into tears or start shouting at her mum. That's what her brothers had expected her to do, from the expressions of surprise I could see out of the corner of my eye.
Mr. Weasley placed his hand on his wife's arm, halting her. "This is neither the time nor place for such a discussion, love. Let's go to Charlie's and get settled in first."
The angry glint in Mrs. Weasley's eyes subsided. She nodded, adjusted her sun hat, and allowed her husband to escort her away.
"Here, Mum, let me take your bag," Charlie said, leading them toward his home.
The four remaining Weasley brothers stared from their sister to me. Aside from the usual 'hurt my sister and I'll curse you' unspoken threat, I felt no danger of attack from a hot-headed sibling. Although I remained outwardly impassive, I was relieved.
Finally, the twins broke the uncomfortable silence.
"Since you don't snore–" Fred, I was almost sure, began with a smirk.
"–we volunteered to bunk in your room, Malfoy," George said cheerfully.
Ginny heard me and smiled, which made me smile briefly too.
We returned our broomsticks to the shed and strolled toward Charlie's. Bill and Ron walked up on either side of me.
"So," Bill said with a laughable attempt at casualness. Really, Gryffindors–except Ginny–were subtle as mountain trolls. "The raven just happened to get eaten by a Hungarian Horntail?"
Ron said, after his brother gave him a prompting look, "That was awfully convenient, wasn't it?"
"Wasn't it?" I replied lightly, receiving looks of heavy suspicion in return.
Ginny saved me from further grilling. "I saw the dragoness eat her. It was horrible! The crunching bones, the blood spurting, the guts…. I could barely sleep, remembering, so please don't bring it up again!" she cried dramatically.
Ron, looking a bit green at the graphic description, agreed readily.
The twins appeared on the verge of laughter as they each put an arm around her shoulders.
"Cry on our shoulders if it will help."
Her eyes narrowed at their facetious tone. "Draco's helped me cope, thanks."
Bill snorted. "I'll bet."
My feelings would have been hurt had I not comforted her in the exact manner Billy-boy implied. As it was, I assumed the innocent expression that had made Ron gnash his teeth many a time and replied, "It was my pleasure."
Affected by the pollen of the flowers interspersing the grass, I was sure, Fred and George began to cough. I kindly whacked them each on the back before taking Ginny's arm and leading her up the steps to Charlie's front door. Mr. Weasley opened it before my hand touched the wood carved with the image of a Romanian dragon.
"Your mum's having a lie down, Ginny, so do you think you could fix some lunch? We didn't have time to eat what with packing and arranging for a Portkey."
She nodded and then hugged her father, whispering, "Please tell me it's not as bad as last time."
He hugged her back. "Not that bad, but she's hurt. We all are."
Ouch. I tried to break through the tension that made me realise that even so-called happy families have their dark moments. "I'll help you, Ginny."
Mr. Weasley nodded and went upstairs.
"Aren't you going to show us to your room?" Fred asked.
"No need," said George. "We'll just look in the wardrobes. When we find posh clothes, we'll know we're in the right room."
"Or a silver hairbrush on the dresser." Fred sniggered.
"Yeah, do you brush your long hair one hundred strokes every night, Malfoy?" George teased.
Slender fingers lifted to smooth my hair back. "No, I do," Ginny said.
That shut the twins up. They headed for the stairs.
Bill said, "You help in the kitchen, Ron. I'll take your case up."
Drat. My wicked plan to snog her senseless on the table was foiled. Sauntering ahead of the siblings, I smiled in relief to find that Anika had stocked the coolant chamber with plenty of sandwich fixings. I handed Ginny a handful of tomatoes. "Why don't we set things out and let each make their own?" She nodded. Ron offered to conjure soup. I said, "Please do."
Wide lips turned up at the corners. "Why do I get the feeling you're not that handy in the kitchen, Malfoy?"
"I get by."
Ginny said, "He conjured dinner for me last night, Ron, and it was delicious."
"I thought you usually eat in the dining hall." Weasley's expression made me put the worktable between us.
"We do," she said. "I just wasn't up to it…last night…after…."
Ron's face scrunched. "Bones, blood…ugh…I don't blame you."
Ginny and I exchanged glances. Her smirk was adorable.
Lunch was a sombre affair. Mrs. Weasley's silent treatment put a pall on conversation. Ron only ate two sandwiches. I forced myself to eat one, while sending Ginny encouraging looks across the table. Fred and George had weaseled their way into the chairs on either side of her, leaving me the seat next to their quietly-stewing Mum. If I didn't get indigestion from her sideways glances, it would be a miracle.
After the funereal lunch, the family arranged themselves in the lounge like characters in a murder-mystery. I was tempted to say 'the house-elf did it,' but I didn't think they would appreciate the humour. Mr. Weasley cleared his throat, but before he could speak, his wife stood and said, "Ginevra and I need to talk, upstairs." Turning to her husband, she qualified, "Alone."
Every male breathed a sigh of relief when the women left the room. We all sat quietly, flinching every now and then when raised voices made certain words like 'trust', 'respect', and 'virginity' audible. The last made me want to pretend to use the toilet and not return, but I stayed while Bill cracked his knuckles in a manner Crabbe would envy. The rest of the Weasley men stared at me in a way that was distinctly ominous.
Feminine voices rose and fell. Ron started biting his thumbnail. Time stretched so uncomfortably, I seriously considered biting mine. When Ginny and her mother were heard returning downstairs, we all trooped into the entry and waited to hear the verdict, the news, whatever.
Mrs. Weasley sniffed and said firmly, "We're going shopping in the village. We'll be back before dinner."
Ginny's smile was tremulous, and her skin was blotchy from crying, but she said with only the hint of a waver, "I want to apologise to all of you, in person, for lying, and promise I've learnt my lesson, because I don't want to hurt the family that I love, to be with the man I love."
The Weasleys all stood around mumbling, 'Aw, Ginny' and 'That's all right, then', but at least they spared her a group hug. I smiled as her gaze landed on me and brightened.
After the women left, we stood around some more, until I asked Fred, "Who's minding the shop? My investment wasn't a charitable donation, you know."
He grinned. "George and I left our assistants in charge. We know the secret of proper management."
"Delegation," George said, nodding sagely.
Ron yawned. "Crikey, I'm tired of sitting around watching dramas like Colin says his Gran does on telly. I want to do something." He turned to Charlie, "Can I go see dragon eggs?"
Bill and Charlie's simultaneous answer brought a look of bitter disappointment to Ron's face. A bizarre feeling of sympathy made me suggest, "We could play Quidditch." When everyone looked at me sceptically, I said, "There's a huge meadow outside, loads of summer volunteers, and plenty of broomsticks. But if you'd rather sit around watching grass grow…."
It was nothing short of amazing how fast Weasleys could get together a pick-up match of Quidditch. Before the match, I huddled together with my temporary teammates. I said in the direst tone that I could dredge up, "If anyone breathes a word about this…."
Ron scoffed, "Like I'd ever tell my mates I played on a team with you as Seeker."
Terry Boot, our third Chaser, laughed. "Don't worry, Malfoy, your secret's safe."
Satisfied, I nodded. Fred held out his hand. George put his atop it, grinning like a lunatic. Bill and Charlie, the other two acting Chasers, did so with smaller smiles. Ron grimaced while he muttered, "Don't think of Harry and Hermione, think of being bored," and slapped his hand on after Terry. Consoling myself with the thought that at least I was on top of the pile, the way a Slytherin should be, I placed my hand gingerly on the boy's I still thought of as 'Weasel' from time to time. I managed not to sneer, visibly, when Charlie said, "All right, team, one, two, three…."
"Go Weasley!" Five out of six hollered.
I caught Ron's smirk over my discomfiture. "If you let a Quaffle in," I said, "I'm singing your favourite song at the top of my lungs."
Disgruntled at the mild reaction, I said, "Get a move on, will you? I've got a Snitch to catch."
Later that evening, I sat beside Ginny on a log viewing the bonfire lit in the fire pit behind the centre, ruing the day I had ever written 'Weasley Is Our King'. The jammy bastard had not let a Quaffle in, so even though I was the one responsible for winning the match, I had been unjustly punished with having to listen to the Weasleys lead the dining hall in singing three choruses before dinner. None of them except Ginny could sing worth shite, either.
"Don't pout. I think you're adorable when you sulk, and if I start kissing you, Mum might start hinting that you'd be more comfortable in a volunteer tent again." Ginny's smile gleamed in the darkness, the firelight turning her hair to flame. She added, "I've finally got my relationship with my family on the right track. I don't want to ruin it by being caught sneaking out to see you."
"Hmmm…I guess that means no ferret sneaking to see you, either."
She lifted our entwined hands and kissed the back of mine. "No, and I'll miss Snowy. His cute little tricks, the way he licked my toes."
I growled deep in my throat. She giggled. I kissed the back of her hand. "How long are they going to be here?"
"They leave the day after the village dance." Ginny giggled. "Mum wants to make sure Anika is good enough for her little boy."
I glanced over to the log where Mr. and Mrs. Weasley chatted with Anika and Charlie. "Since their attention is otherwise occupied, I can do this…." She leaned toward me, parting her lips for a soft, sweet kiss that led to another, longer snog that deepened and lasted until Fred and George pulled me away to perform a Comfort Charm on my floor so they could sleep.
The Wizarding village was built around a green that was used for celebrations. A large wooden dance floor was already thronged with couples when the group from the dragon research centre joined the dance already in full swing. Lively music created by violins, modified guitars called zongoral, and drums played. The twilight glowed with faery lights floating around the perimeter of the green.
Ron and the twins headed for the food tables. Impressed by the sarmale, stuffed cabbage rolls served at dinner, they wanted to try some pastries. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley wandered off to look at a display of local crafts, and Charlie headed straight for Anika. The Romanian was looking very pretty in a traditional white dress embroidered with red roses.
Villagers wore a variety of attire, from traditional white, with black vests to denims and tees with Quidditch teams emblazoned across the front. I had chosen to wear a black silk tee and trousers to contrast with Ginny's embroidered white peasant blouse bought in Spain and white skirt. We were the best-looking couple there.
Bill, who was decent enough, for a Weasley male, drifted away while Ginny and I watched the dancers. He came back with a litre bottle of Romanian mineral water and half a dozen handkerchiefs, which he offered to Ginny.
"No, no, no, brother, those are yours." She giggled, leaning against me. Bill looked perplexed when she said, "Don't tell Fleur about them, whatever you do."
I took pity on the clueless man. "It's the custom for girls to give the man they fancy a handkerchief as a token of their interest. Matrimonial interest." Ginny looked at me with wide eyes, surprised that I had done a little research and found out about that part of the handkerchief ritual. Taking a square embroidered with a grey-blue diamond within diamond pattern out of my pocket, I drawled, "I only need one."
Bill stuffed his collection of handkerchiefs in his pocket and took a swig of his water. Immediately, his face turned red. "Merlin, that's not water!"
"Of course not!" Anika said, as she and Charlie joined us. "That is tsuica, plum brandy. Distilled right here in the village. She gestured to the plum trees lining one side of the green. "In August, we harvest the plums, and everyone in the village helps." Smiling up at Charlie, the girl said, "This year, you will help, Da?"
He pulled out a handkerchief embroidered with a Longhorn, showing it to his siblings before tucking it back into his pocket. "Da."
Anika gestured to the couples lining up for a slow dance. "Come, let us dance."
I told Ginny, "She doesn't look like your mother, but Anika's got that managing streak. Poor bloke doesn't stand a chance."
Ginny's delicate brows arched. Tossing back her red hair, she stepped close and looked up at me with a sultry smile. "Come, let us dance."
I didn't stand a chance. Before I knew it, we were promenading with other couples in a horseshoe formation. After the slow, walking dance, the men showed off in a line dance. Ginny seemed impressed with the heavy boot stamping and heels clicking in the air. One man noticed her watching and came over afterwards.
"I am Mihai, would you care to dance?" the bastard dared to ask.
"No, thank you," she responded politely. "I already have a partner."
I resisted the urge to wave my handkerchief in the sweaty oaf's face, steering Ginny back to the dance floor instead.
Anika waved us over. "I am so happy you are here. You will make Charlie more comfortable learning the fast-turning dance."
Copying the couples around me, I took close hold of Ginny. We rapidly turned in place as a couple, first in one direction and then another. My girl's steps were just as light and flowing as a Romanian's, and of course, I spun her around just as well or better than any other wizard did his partner.
The dance became more intricate. We didn't know all the moves, but we danced anyway, to steps of our own making. When another cycle of dancing began, we moved to the side and slow danced.
Ginny nodded to the other couples close dancing instead of promenading. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Charlie and Anika, Blaise and her partner Terry, and Niles, a volunteer from the centre with a woman I didn't recognise.
"That's Daphne. Anika set her friend up with Niles when she found out they're both keen birdwatchers."
I smiled down at the girl who I loved, and who loved me more than I had ever dreamt possible. To keep her safe, I had arranged through Blaise's house-elf Minky to send a stipend to my father's Azkaban guard. Lucius would get no mail other than from family and receive no visitors until further notice.
It gave me a pang to cross my father. The feeling faded as I ran the back of my fingers down a lightly freckled cheek. Sometimes love meant making hard choices, and Ginny was worth it. Pulling her closer, bending my head to hers, the faery lights and music were a perfect accompaniment to our kiss.
A/N: The final chapter of 'A Tale of Two Matchmakers' was titled 'The Long Goodbye'. This was the final instalment of it. Since there was no pov from Ginny, Luna, or Blaise, and it was first instead of third person, I decided to make it a one shot. Thanks to all the readers who didn't want the story to end, you definitely made the sorrow sweeter. Merlin, it is hard to say goodbye!
There's one more story I hope readers will enjoy. It's A Tale of Two Matchmakers: Christmas Reunion.
Thank you for reading this story!